By Mike Pilosof
Photo by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-In order to make his Division-I dream possible, Dakota Finley made a tough decision to leave home.
An All-State player at Durant High School, Finley signed with Southeastern Oklahoma State after graduation, a Division-II school in his hometown. But he never played there. Instead, he left his comfort zone and transferred to Garden City.
Chris Finnegan is sure glad he's here.
The freshman collected three hits on Thursday including a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh as the Broncbusters edged Pratt 3-2 in their series opener at Williams Stadium.
"We finished this game, and Dakota was a big reason for that," Finnegan said. "But I think we are forgetting about Chris Lara, who had a big two-out RBI. Those are the things we have to do consistently."
Finley's day was far from perfect. He committed three errors. But when the moment mattered most, the first-year player delivered.
"Both Dakota and Chris swung the bat really well today," Finnegan said.
As they have done in their first few home games, the offense got off to a slow start. Pratt starter Sean McElwee tossed only nine pitches to record the first five outs and limited Garden City to just two hits over the first three innings.
"McElwee is really good," Finnegan said. "His record doesn't reflect how good he is. He hits his spots, and he changes speeds really well."
While the Broncbusters were a bit off balance, the Beavers got on the board first in the fourth. Landon Hulet doubled to right, and Michael Davis hit a sinking liner to center that Jake Barber dove for and missed, resulting in the Beavers first run.
"We don't talk about that," Finnegan said with a smile, referring to Barber's dive. "Jake just runs all over the outfield."
Garden City drew even in their half of the fourth. Finley singled and stole second. Two batters later, Colin Stone moved him to third before Lara's sacrifice fly tied the game 1-1.
"I always say how important it is to get two-out hits," Finnegan said. "We couldn't buy one against Hutch. I think we did a much better job today."
Pratt surged back in front in the sixth. With two outs, Eric Heiman surrendered a double to Michael Davis. Derek Underwood followed with a run-scoring single, and the Beavers were up 2-1.
"We have to learn how to put these things together on a consistent basis," Finnegan said.
McElwee showed some cracks in the armor in the bottom of the sixth. Finley led off the inning with a single; then moved to third on back-to-back groundouts. With two outs, Lara poked a ball through the shortstop hole, tying the game at 2.
In the top of the seventh, Finnegan called on old reliable Jacob Douglass, who worked around a one-out single to strike out Jack Partington and get Sean Johnson to line out to right.
That set the table for Finley in the home half.
Barber continued his recent hot streak, extending his hitting streak to 10 games with a single to lead off the frame. After Turner McDonald struck out, McElwee intentionally walked Corbin Truslow and Sean Klein to load the bases. That brought Finley to the plate, where the freshman took a 1-0 pitch and drove it to left for the game winner.
"Pratt's a tough team because they have good arms," Finnegan said. "The top part of their order is really good. They just haven't had the breaks this year."
Finley finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI for Garden City, who won the opening game of a conference series for the first time this season. Lara was 2-for-2 with two RBI, and Heiman scattered six hits in six innings, picking up his third win of the year.
McElwee yielded three runs on eight hits in 6.1 innings for Pratt, who dropped their third straight game.